Music fans across the nation are still reeling in the aftermath of the Taylor Swift ticketing tumult. The difficulty in securing tickets to the artist’s current “Eras Tour” led to widespread outrage. Executives from Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, were questioned by lawmakers across the country. The ticketing industry more generally, has come under increased scrutiny over the past few months.
Current law in most states does allow artists and venues to prohibit re-sale of their tickets. This means they can essentially ban any further transactions. The person who buys the ticket first has to be the one who uses it. This is one way to avoid another headache on the same scale as the Taylor Swift tour.
Swift vastly underpriced her tickets for her most recent tour. This created huge demand. Many saw an opportunity to buy tickets at these artificially low prices – even though they never intended to use them – and flip them for an enormous profit on a secondary market. This flooded the ticket sites and created the disaster everyone saw last year. Curiously, a number of lawmakers want to implement changes that would incentivize scalping and price gouging in secondary markets. Unfortunately, this misunderstands the very nature of ticket sales.
Lawmakers seeking to bar artists, venues, and ticketing companies from limiting resale markets are operating under an outdated theory of ticketing. They come at the issue as if a ticket sale is a straightforward purchase of property. Walking into a thrift shop and getting a vintage hoodie, that hoodie is the buyer’s property now and he or she can keep it, sell it, or use it however he or she sees fit for as long as desired. This is how lawmakers are attempting to understand ticketing.
However, this is simply not analogous. In fact, policymakers need not look too far to see a much better analogy for concert ticketing. When someone purchases an airline ticket, that ticket is non-transferable. It is associated with the buyer’s name and identification. It does not entitle the person to fly on that airplane whenever they wish and there is a built-in agreement on several limitations once the purchase is complete. That sale is more of a rental or license rather than a purchase of physical property.
There is no reason that concert or sports ticketing cannot be the same. In fact, there’s a degree to which they already are. Ticketholders are getting access to a venue for one night only to see a specific event. They tacitly agree to restrictions on their conduct and what they can or cannot bring into the arena. The ticket in no way entitles them to perpetual access to said venue.
Allowing artists, venues, or ticketers to ban resale markets is not radical or restrictive. It is actually quite natural, given the nature of ticket sales more broadly. It simply gives these actors in the system the option to take action if they think it would help streamline their ticket sales or make the process more efficient.
Such actions also pose great benefits for fans these supposedly vigilant lawmakers claim they want to protect. Taylor Swift’s tour was underpriced because she wanted true fans to have access to her shows and not be dissuaded because of their inability to pay prices that would have more accurately reflected demand. However, the presence of an avid resale market invited in bots, scalpers, and other actors who wanted to take advantage of the massive opportunity to turn an easy profit.
If an artist like Swift had communicated to Ticketmaster that she did not want a resale market, her tour would have been much less of a magnet for these opportunists. She would have been able to sell her tickets to her diehard fans and there would have been no incentive for anyone to try and flip tickets for gain, because the possibility would not exist. This allows artists, sports teams and leagues, and other event hosts to offer their experiences to fans for more affordable prices, without having to hike prices or tack on extra fees to dissuade this type of behavior.
The market has the tools to do exactly what one should expect it to do after an incident like Swift’s Eras Tour. It can innovate and implement changes to fix the problems that caused it in the first place. Thinking the response to the Eras debacle should be to restrict artist flexibility on resale markets misses the point entirely. Instead of tightening the screws, lawmakers should instead be applauding this option or even encouraging it. An outdated vision of ticket sales as physical property would severely inhibit these benefits from being passed on.